Female Execs Decry Gender Bias in Business: “There Is Value Being Left on the Table”

Women’s empowerment needs to start young, entrepreneurs and executives say at TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast Tuesday

From prosthetics for female veterans, to high-level networking lists to concerts by women for women, female entrepreneurs and executives traded ideas on how to get boost women in business and culture at TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast in New York on Tuesday.

Rachel Sklar, co-founder of Change the Ratio, a networking firm that aims to boost the visibility of women in entertainment and new media, criticized the current scarcity of female voices in film, TV, and technology.

She cited “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway and Jengi Kohan, creator of “Orange is the New Black,” as examples of the too few women who have managed to break out in the industry. “It’s crazy to think that only half the population has any stories to tell or legitimate things to say,” said Sklar.

Just as male directors land more directing gigs, she noted, male entrepreneurs are more likely to get funding rounds. “There is value being left on the table when we are only focusing on the narrowest band,” she said.

Sklar’s business, which started connecting women by email, has grown quickly. She calls it a version of the Old Boys’ network that greases the careers of many men.

“I like the list. Let’s talk after,” said Shelley Zalis, founder of research company OTX (Online Testing Exchange). Zalis said she spent the weekend with the White House and the Department of Veterans Affairs exploring prosthetic technology for wounded soldiers.

Her unique emphasis was on the combination of tech, fashion and lifestyle in prosthetics research to improve the quality of life for female veterans, who have particular needs that are different from men and often ignored.

Joanna Pena-Bickley, IBM Interactive’s global chief creative officer, agreed about the importance that “female points of view are reflected in the everyday culture.”

Empowering women, she noted, needs to start early: “I have three girls. Boys don’t ask permission to use technology. Girls ask permission.”

Gayle Troberman, EVP and chief marketing officer of iHeartMedia, said that initially she hadn’t thought of the music industry as exclusionary of women. “There are female stars and male stars. But when I see the lineup of all these festivals,” she said she was surprised to discover it’s still mostly guys.

At her company’s annual Jingle Ball concert in Madison Square Garden last December, Trobertman felt a new jolt of energy from the female-skewing crowd. “There are teen girls watching female artists, and it feels different,” she said, noting that Taylor Swifts has commented about the difference in concerts when lineups and audiences have more gender balance.

Troberman admitted she was once skeptical of “women’s panels” but has since reconsidered. “These are important,” she said, “and the more we can get [women] onto stages, the better it will be for girls growing up.”